The morning buzz: What people are talking about on Parliament Hill
1. Re-branding Iggy as sexy Harvard intellectual. Scared by the "just visiting" Tory attack ads (remember those?), Michael Ignatieff had gone into full retreat. At least that's the view of the members of the new team around the Liberal Leader. And so they are now trying to reboot his image - get him back on track as the lantern-jawed Harvard intellectual and ideas guy who had initially captured the imagination of Canadians.
Yesterday, Mr. Ignatieff announced a major thinkers/policy conference for Montreal in March. And his strategists will be using the months leading up to the conference to tweak and redefine his image. "We feel strongly [about]this notion of him being an ideas guy," a senior Ignatieff strategist says. "It made him interesting in the first place and in recent months it was kind of ignored because I guess they [his old team, which was recently replaced]got scared by the 'just visiting' stuff. … They kind of hid his light under a bushel."
The strategist says one of the big complaints from Canadians is that the leader hasn't been talking about "issues that are important." The re-branding exercise begins in early January with Mr. Ignatieff meeting university and high school students, asking them for ideas on policy and where they see themselves on Canada's 150th birthday in 2017. Mr. Ignatieff "does well" with students, the strategist say, so they hope this will make for a good starting point. And from there he will be attending town hall meetings across the country, gathering ideas and taking the measure of Canadians.
What will their retirement look like? Will they have enough money to retire? What jobs will their children have? Will they have jobs? How will they take care of their parents in five to 10 years? These are all issues that the Ignatieff team believes Canadians of the so-called sandwich generation are "obsessed about." In the meantime, they hope to highlight Mr. Ignatieff's strengths: "Let's underline what is attractive about him in the first place," the strategist says. "And the contrast with Harper is great - Harper thinks ideas are a four-letter word."
2. Awaiting Hillier's take. This is a big day on Parliament Hill - three retired generals appearing before the all-party Commons committee investigating the Afghan detainee situation. The most anticipated testimony, however, is that of former chief of defence staff Rick Hillier. All eyes and ears will be on him this afternoon, watching how he is treated by committee members and listening to what he has to say regarding the explosive testimony of senior Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin.
Mr. Colvin testified last week that torture of Afghan detainees was routine. Since then, he has had little confirmation or help from senior officials.
Teeing up General Hillier's testimony are the remarks by Brigadier-General Jonathan Vance, who returned yesterday after his ten-month command in Afghanistan. He told reporters that he was confident no detainees were tortured or abused under his watch. "In my opinion there was no risk of torture during my tenure," he said in a CBC radio. However, he did stop the transfers three times to ensure that the Afghan authorities were correctly following the new system that had been adopted by Canadians to ensure no torture. "I determined that I would halt detainee transfers at any time that I thought that there was any chance at all of a real risk to those detainees at the hands of the NDS (the Afghan intelligence service)," he said.
Meanwhile, The Globe and Mail's Steven Chase is reporting today that some of Mr. Colvin's reports were sent to the office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs - the first evidence warnings about torture could have reached the political level.
3. Stéphane Dion and the Greens. His dog is named Kyoto, he made a strategic alliance with Green Party Leader Elizabeth May in the last federal election and he is all about the environment (recall the Green Shift plan?). So it's not surprising there is speculation the former Liberal leader could be pondering switching parties.
Since he lost his leadership last December, Mr. Dion has been quietly working in Ottawa, voting with his party, attending Question Period and basically staying well off the radar screen. All that changed, however, this weekend when his wife, Janine Krieber, posted a scathing analysis on her Facebook wall of the Ignatieff Liberals. She said they were destined for the "trashcan of history" and criticized Liberals for being duped by Mr. Ignatieff, who is charming on the cocktail circuit but offers little else.
The posting was removed very quickly after it appeared. Never mind, it still fueled rumours that she is poised to leave the party, begging the question as to whether her husband will follow. During last year's federal election campaign, Ms. Krieber was a constant presence, holding hands and often standing with him at the podium while he delivered remarks or a speech. Interestingly, however, she was not in Vancouver at the leadership convention that confirmed Mr. Ignatieff as leader and paid tribute to her husband.
It's worth recalling, however, that Mr. Dion was recruited from academia to the Liberal ranks by Jean Chrétien just after the 1995 referendum, in which the Liberals almost lost the country. Mr. Dion was brought right into cabinet and although he was always considered a Chrétien Liberal, he performed so well during the early Paul Martin tenure that he was brought back into cabinet.
(Photo: Mr. Ignatieff gazes out the window at Stornoway in April, 2009. Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)